When I was about nine years old I went to stay with my grandparents. Usually we all went together, but this time my parents dropped me and I stayed on my own. A sign of burgeoning maturity.
We didn’t take a newspaper regularly at home, but they did, so despite my tender years I made a point of reading it cover to cover. One day I was leafing through without interest when a cartoon leapt out at me. Not because anything exciting was happening in it; in fact, quite the opposite: nothing was happening. But there, in print, in indelible newspaper ink, was my name: Joe Baxter. It made quite an impression.
The first frame of the cartoon showed a cartoon woman sitting at a cartoon newsdesk. (It was a cartoon, after all, so let’s just assume from now on that everything was cartoon.) She was speaking via the archaic medium of the speech bubble:
‘And now, here is the news at six o’clock. Nothing happened. Here with the details is Joe Baxter…’
There it was.
Cut – in the next frame – to a roving reporter, a reporter with my name. Me. It was not possible that anyone else could have my name, be he fictional or otherwise. Of course, I could invent a character and give him my name, that was easy. But that someone else should invent a character and choose to give them my name… it was beyond belief. Not possible; yet there it was: black, bold, undeniable.
But there was more than just that: it struck my nine year old self that my whole destiny was contained within those cartoon frames, was mapped out in crude pen strokes, was no more than the product of someone’s cheap joke. A revelation of sorts; a barren epiphany. I was destined to report on nothing, to become the transcriber of inanity, record-keeper for the empty minutes of empty days. Forever dissecting the drama of banality. And so, here I am. Here it is.